In this section:

Health Justice Partnership

Responsible government

  • Australian Capital Territory

Fourth Action Plan actions

  • Respect, listen and respond to the diverse lived experience and knowledge of women and their children affected by violence
    • 10 Implement community-led and tailored initiatives to address the unique experiences and needs of communities affected by multiple forms of discrimination or inequality.
    • 11 Deliver policies and services to address the disproportionate impact of violence on particular groups.

What are we doing?

In 2019 the Family Safety Hub delivered a new service to provide early intervention for pregnant women and new parents experiencing or at risk of domestic and family violence. Three heath justice partnership pilot services ran from January to June 2019. The pilot embedded lawyers into health care sites across Canberra to provide free access to legal information.

Having lawyers embedded in health settings means people accessing these settings – and their families – can access free and confidential legal advice, practical assistance and targeted support. The service includes activities to build a shared understanding and capability of staff in relation to legal and health family safety issues, and provides structures to help maintain effective partnerships.

Following a six-month pilot, the services were extended and are now embedded in the ACT service system. The partnerships are established and the relationships between healthcare professionals and the legal staff are strong. The partnerships put help right in front of those who need it, in a place they are comfortable and have established and trusted relationships.

What have we achieved so far?

Over 500 people have been helped so far through the health justice partnerships. A review of the pilot identified the service reached people who would otherwise not receive any support, was supporting people with complex and intersecting health and legal problems, and is more effective than an outreach model where a lawyer is only onsite irregularly.

Partnership lawyers have provided legal as well as non-legal support, including helping develop safety plans, securing Family Violence Orders, negotiating child custody arrangements, managing immigration issues, and advocating for clients in their interactions with other support services such as Child and Youth Protection Services.

The lawyers provide training to healthcare workers on the complexities of domestic and family violence, family law, and care and protection. This gives healthcare staff a greater awareness of legal issues and options for their patients, and a confidential source of advice and support while working with clients who may be at risk of domestic and family violence and dealing with intersecting health and legal issues.

During COVID-19 the support of the partnerships was critical as many people experienced an increase in violence or violence for the first time. Although face-to-face services were restricted during the pandemic, the health justice partnerships continued to support people affected by domestic and family violence through telephone, email and video meetings.

What is next?

In the 2021-22 budget, the ACT Government committed to recurrent funding for the Health Justice Partnership until 2025, allocating approximately $1 million annually to critical domestic and family violence support in health and community settings.

What difference will we make?

These embedded partnerships have the potential to achieve better health and justice outcomes for those most vulnerable in our community. They also aim to:

  • provide services to cohorts that would otherwise be difficult to reach
  • ensure earlier support for people experiencing or at risk of family violence
  • further integrate family violence responses and service systems.

The service is reaching members of the community who would have otherwise not received help. Sometimes people want to understand if they are experiencing violence, or what their legal rights and responsibilities are, before acting. The fear of police involvement or mandatory reporting are barriers for some people to be willing to have a conversation about their situation. Women experiencing domestic and family violence face barriers to access advice, including having their movements restricted by their partner. Healthcare appointments can sometimes be the one of the only interactions a woman has outside the home.

Legal support for those affected by domestic and family violence is typically provided during or after crisis. The partnership provides earlier support that is aiming to prevent women from reaching crisis.

Trusted relationships between health staff, lawyers, patients and clients are at the heart of a successful partnership. The legal partners provide training to the healthcare professionals to help them understand and identify domestic and family violence and potential legal issues. Healthcare professionals help the legal partners develop an understanding of the health impacts of social and legal issues. Together the health and legal partners deliver comprehensive wraparound care.

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